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THE ART OF LIVING 323
Although the Chinese may learn from the West a great deal about a sense of proportion in arranging for feasts, they have, in this field as in medicine, many famous and wonderful recipes to teach the Westerners. In the cooking of ordinary things like vegetables and chickens, the Chinese have a rich store to hand to the West, when the West is ready and humble enough to learn it. This seems unlikely until China has built a few good gun-boats and can punch the West in the jaw, when it will be admitted that we are unquestionably better cooks as a nation. But until that time comes, there is no use talking about it. There are thousands of Englishmen in the Shanghai Settlement who have never stepped inside a Chinese restaurant, and the Chinese are bad evangelists. We never force salvation on anybody who does not come to ask for it. We have no gunboats, anyway, and even if we had, we would never care to go up the Thames or the Mississippi and shoot the English or the Americans into heaven against their will.
As to drinks, we are naturally moderate except as regarding tea. Owing to the comparative absence of distilled liquor, one very seldom sees drunkards in the streets. But tea-drinking is an art in itself. It amounts with some persons almost to a cult. There are special books about tea-drinking as there are special books about incense and wine and rocks for house decoration. More than any other human invention of this nature, the drinking of tea has coloured our daily life as a nation,, and gives rise to the institution of tea-houses which are approximate equivalents of Western cafes for the common people. People drink tea in their homes and in the tea-houses, alone and in company, at committee meetings and at the settling of disputes. They drink tea before breakfast and at midnight. With a teapot, a Chinese is happy wherever he is. It is a universal habit, and it has no deleterious effect whatsoever, except in very rare cases, as in my native district where according to tradition some people have drunk themselves bankrupt. This is only possible with extremely costly tea, but the average tea is cheap, and the average tea in China is good enough for a prince. The best tea is mild and gives a "back-flavour" which comes after a minute or two, when its chemical action has set in on the salivary glands. Such good tea puts everybody in good humour.